S S Negi and R. Suryamurthy, Tribune News Service, New Delhi, May 25
In a big relief to Virbhadra Singh government in Himachal Pradesh, the Election Commission has rejected a petition by the BJP seeking disqualification of 12 Congress MLAs alleging that they had held offices of profit.
A petition by BJP MLA Ravi Inder Singh seeking their disqualification for holding the posts of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries, which was stuck down by the state high court, had been referred to the EC by State Governor V S Kokje earlier this year.
The EC said that a law existed in the state exempting these posts from being covered under the office-of- profit and the disqualification rule would not apply to them. The commission was believed to have communicated its decision to the Governor.
On BJP MLA’s contention that the Himachal High Court had struck down their appointment as Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries, the EC observed that it was not concerned about their appointment and subsequent quashing of it by the court.
The poll panel held that it was not required to go into the legality of appointments of these legislators to the said posts and findings of the High Court.
The commission took into consideration the state government’s stand that under the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1971, the post of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries was exempted from being brought under the provision of disqualification applicable for holding office of profit as provided in the Constitution.
Besides the posts held by these MLAs, the Act provides immunity to Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, Deputy Ministers, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly and various functionaries of local bodies.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had appointed eight MLAs, Mukesh Agnihotri, Thakur Singh Bharmouri, Anita Verma, Prem Singh, Tek Chand, Harsh Wardhan Chauhan, Lajja Ram and Harbhajan Singh, as Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and four, Jagat Singh Negi, Surinder Kumar, Sudhir Sharma and Raghbir Singh, as Parliamentary Secretaries.
The BJP MLA had petitioned the Governor soon after the High Court in its August 18, 2005 judgement had struck down the appointments of 12 MLAs, making it a ground for their disqualification.
The state government has challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court, which has referred the matter to a Constitution Bench.